Posts Tagged ‘ballistic missiles’

Pentagon assessing potential responses to Iranian behavior

May 21, 2018

The U.S. military will take all necessary steps to confront Iranian behavior in the region and is still assessing whether that could include new actions or doubling down on current ones, the Pentagon said on Monday.

“We are going to take all necessary steps to confront and address Iran’s malign influence in the region,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters.

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U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis

“We are assessing if we are going to double down on current actions or implement new actions,” Manning said.

He did not comment on specific actions.

Reuters

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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Iran calls EU efforts to save nuclear deal inadequate

May 21, 2018

Tehran has said Europe’s attempts to save the 2015 nuclear deal are insufficient. Iran sees a particular problem with European companies halting investment in the country.

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An Iranian made ballistic missile is launched from Yemen by Houti rebels into Saudi Arabia

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Europe’s attempts to salvage the nuclear deal were inadequate, in comments in Tehran on Sunday.

He said he was particularly concerned by the decisions of various European companies to halt their Iranian operations until the future of sanctions was clear.

Read more: European allies struggle to curb impact of US sanctions

What Zarif said

“With the exit of the United States from the nuclear deal, the expectations of the Iranian public towards the European Union have increased … and the EU’s political support for the nuclear agreement is not sufficient,” Zarif said in comments carried by state broadcaster IRIB.

“The cascade of decisions by EU companies to end their activities in Iran makes things much more complicated,” he told reporters.

“The EU must take concrete supplementary steps to increase its investments in Iran. The commitments of the EU to apply the nuclear deal are not compatible with the announcement of probable withdrawal by major European companies,” Zarif said.

He was speaking after meeting with EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, whose two-day visit to Iran was the first by a Western official since Washington announced its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal earlier this month.

Read more: No clear benefit from Trump’s reimposing sanctions on Iran

Investments on hold

French oil major Total has said it will abandon its $4.8 billion (€4.1 billion) Iranian investment project unless Washington grants it a waiver from sanctions.

Fellow French energy giant, Engie, has said it will halt engineering work in the country before November, when US sanctions are due to be reimposed.

Germany tries to sell the deal

Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas urged other signatories to uphold the 2015 nuclear deal.

At a meeting of G20 foreign ministers he said, “Giving it up means entering a completely uncertain future as far as the question of nuclear weapons in Iran is concerned.”

“It’s not really about Iran; it’s about our own original security interests, German as well as European.”

But it will be difficult to make progress with the deal in Buenos Aires with the absence of several key players on Monday, including Russia’s Sergey Lavrov, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and, most notably, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo is scheduled to give a speech on Monday in Washington on the US’ hopes of reaching a new nuclear deal with Iran.

Read more: Iran deal: The European Union’s ugly options

The Vienna meeting

German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported that Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China would be meeting in Vienna this week to discuss how to maintain the nuclear accord.

Read more: Germany to meet with France, Britain, Russia and China to save Iran nuclear deal: report

It said a potential deal would be largely the same as the 2015 deal, but with added stipulations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and Tehran’s support of armed groups in the Middle East.

But, according to Reuters news agency, unnamed EU sources denied they will discuss offering Iran financial aid in exchange for concessions.

“The Vienna meeting next Friday will address the implementation issues and details” of the deal, one EU source said. “The meeting will not cover any other issues.”

aw/sms (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)

http://www.dw.com/en/iran-calls-eu-efforts-to-save-nuclear-deal-inadequate/a-43864475

Germany to meet with France, Britain, Russia and China to save Iran nuclear deal

May 20, 2018

In a bid to save the Iran nuclear accord, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China will meet in Vienna this week. But one major player in the deal will not be attending.

    
Iran's Ghadr-F rocket and a huge portrait of Khomeini in 2016 (picture-alliance/AP Photo/V. Salemi)

Germany and four other nations will soon meet to discuss how to proceed with the Iran nuclear deal, German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported on Sunday.

The international community is scrambling to save a deal that keeps Iran from developing nuclear weapons after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact.

Read more: European allies struggle to curb impact of US sanctions

What the paper reported

  • Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China will meet in Vienna in the next week, led by senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid.
  • The United States will not attend. It was unclear if Iran would take part in the meeting.
  • They will discuss a new agreement similar to the 2015 deal, but also limiting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional role.
  • The new agreement may provide financial aid to Iran.
  • Diplomats are also expected to discuss EU measures to defend against US sanctions, which would have “at best only very limited positive effects on Iran’s economy.”

Read more: EU to reactivate ‘blocking statute’ against US sanctions on Iran for European firms

German chancellor expresses EU support for Iran nuclear deal at meeting with Putin.

Bringing Trump on board

“We have to get away from the name “Vienna Nuclear Agreement” and add a few additional elements — only then will President Trump agree and lift the sanctions,” a top EU diplomat told the paper.

No immediate comment was available from the German Foreign Ministry.

Read more: Iran, EU aiming to keep the nuclear deal alive

EU unites against Trump over US sanctions on Iran

Commitment: The planned meeting shows Europe is committed to ensuring the longevity of the Iran deal, even if it means moving away from the US and working with Moscow, Beijing and Tehran. The EU has said it would be disastrous if the deal falls through.

What is the nuclear deal? Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions, but the deal did not include Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East. After sanctions were lifted, the Islamic Republic more than doubled its oil exports, which helped lift the country out of a deep recession.

Strengthening trade: The European Commission on Friday began work on a series of measures to shield European companies investing in Iran and support Tehran’s economy, in the hope of salvaging the Iran deal. The EU hopes to save the nuclear accord by pumping money into Tehran as long as long as it complies with the 2015 deal to prevent it from developing an atomic weapon. The EU’s energy chief sought to reassure Iran on Saturday that the 28-member bloc remained committed to salvaging the nuclear deal, and strengthening trade with Tehran.

Read more: Iran deal: The European Union’s ugly options

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http://www.dw.com/en/germany-to-meet-with-france-britain-russia-and-china-to-save-iran-nuclear-deal-report/a-43857576

France, Britain, Germany Russia and China Working Deals With Iran — financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development

May 20, 2018

Diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development and meddling in the region, in the hope of salvaging its 2015 nuclear deal, a German newspaper reported on Sunday.

The officials will meet in Vienna in the coming week under the leadership of senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to pull out of a 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper said, citing senior EU sources.

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Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China would participate in the meeting, but the United States would not, it said. It was not immediately clear if Iran – which has resisted calls to curb its ballistic missile program in the past – would take part.

Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most Western sanctions. One of the main complaints of the Trump administration was that the accord did not cover Iran’s missile program or its support for armed groups in the Middle East which the West considers terrorists.

Concluding a new agreement that would maintain the nuclear provisions and curb ballistic missile development efforts and Tehran’s activities in the region could help convince Trump to lift sanctions against Iran, the paper said.

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“We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the paper quoted a senior EU diplomat as saying.

No immediate comment was available from the German foreign ministry.

The EU’s energy chief sought to reassure Iran on Saturday that the 28-member bloc remained committed to salvaging the nuclear deal, and strengthening trade with Tehran.

Officials from the EU, Germany and other countries that remain committed to the deal have said it would disastrous if EU efforts fail to preserve it.

© AFP/File / by Dana Rysmukhamedova with Cedric Simon in Sofia and Julien Girault in Beijing | Iran once again faces US sanctions after Donald Trump’s shock decision to quit the nuclear deal

Iran has struggled to achieve financial benefits from the deal, partly because remaining unilateral U.S. sanctions over its missile program deterred major Western investors from doing business with Tehran.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R), France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (2nd L), Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R), EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Britain's Foreign Secretary arrive for a meeting of EU/E3 with Iran at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 15, 2018. 
(AFP PHOTO / POOL / Olivier Matthys)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2nd R), France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (2nd L), Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R), EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Britain’s Foreign Secretary arrive for a meeting of EU/E3 with Iran at the EU headquarters in Brussels on May 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Olivier Matthys)

The officials are looking for a new approach given an understanding that it would be difficult for European firms to work around new U.S. sanctions, the newspaper reported.

It said the new deal could include billions of dollars of financial aid for Iran, in line with an EU deal that provided billions in aid to Turkey for taking in millions of migrants and closing its borders, which helped end a 2015 migrant crisis.

Iran and European powers have made a good start in talks over how to salvage the 2015 deal but much depends on what happens in the next few weeks, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said last week.

Reuters

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrew Bolton and Peter Graff

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Next on Iran: War, Diplomacy or Some of Both?

May 19, 2018

A Q&A with Iran expert Kenneth M. Pollack on the next steps for the U.S., Europe and the mullahs.

Remember when the only alternative to the Iran nuclear deal was war? In the summer of 2015, with Congress debating whether to vote on nixing the recently negotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Barack Obama gave a speech at American University invoking that dire dilemma. Just “stating a fact,” he said: The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”

Who needs nukes?

Source: AFP/Getty Images

Well, I suppose it all depends on your definition of “soon” – and also maybe “fact” – but it’s been nearly two weeks since President Donald Trump walked away from the pact, and the battle hasn’t broken out yet. In fact, the immediate Iranian response was not to hurriedly restart its nuclear weapons research, but to call on the European signatories to the deal to negotiate a plan to keep it in place. Here’s the thing: The U.S. and its allies face a serious threat from Iran, which continues to test ballistic missiles in violation of United Nations resolutions and to foment instability and terrorism in its struggle for regional supremacy against Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states.

Of course, as former Secretary of State John Kerry and other Obama aides repeatedly pointed out, all that behavior fell far outside the scope of the deal. For many of the deal’s skeptics, the obvious yet damning retort was: Why not? In their minds, omission of Iran’s regional transgressions, more than the disagreements over centrifuge numbers and sunset provisions and anytime-anywhere inspections, was the crux of the problem. So, to discuss the immediate fallout from Trump’s announcement, I decided to talk to one of the leading critics: Kenneth M. Pollack.

He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Before that, he snaked an interesting career path through the capital: As a CIA analyst in the 1990s, he put together the agency’s classified after-action study of the Gulf War; while a professor at the National Defense University, he also advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Middle Eastern politics; and he twice served in the National Security Council during the Bill Clinton administration.

The big reason I wanted to talk to him at this moment is his 2004 book, “The Persian Puzzle: Deciphering the 25-Year Conflict Between the United States and Iran,” which the New York Times Book Review said “reminds us again and again how often American assumptions about Iranian concerns were wrong.” So as we look to post-deal Iran, what assumptions most need rethinking? Here is a lightly edited transcript of our chat:

Tobin Harshaw:  First, let’s hash out how the pro- and anti-deal sides in the U.S. have established their narratives over the last two weeks. The Trump backers insist that the deal was so flawed it had to be nuked, and that Obama can only blame himself for using an executive order rather than getting a better deal through Congress. Is that fair?

Kenneth M. Pollack: Like everything in Washington these days, there’s no easy answer. From my perspective, the JCPOA was not a great deal: I felt it gave up more than it should and got less than it could. But it was still a very useful deal because it put the Iranian nuclear program on ice for 10-15 years, which would give us the time to address Iran’s aggressive expansion in the region and create the leverage to come back and convince the Russians, Chinese and Iranians to agree to a better, more permanent deal.

Unfortunately, neither Obama nor Trump evinced any interest in dealing with Iranian actions in the Middle East, and Trump has now walked away from the deal for no good strategic reason and without any plan (let alone ability) to get a better one.

As for the decision not to treat the JCPOA as a treaty, I think there is fault on both sides. I would have much preferred Obama to treat it as a treaty and get Senate approval. The fact that he didn’t made it all too easy for Trump to scuttle it despite the fact that the Congress staunchly opposed his doing so. Of course, in Obama’s defense, back in 2015, the Congress seemed so dead set against the deal (wrongly, in my view) that you could certainly understand why he was not going to trust his signature foreign policy achievement in the Middle East to a Congress determined to hurt him any way it could.

That said, I felt that the way that the Obama administration tried to sell the deal — “you are either for it or you are a warmonger” — was equally wrong-headed and made it that much less likely that the Republicans in Congress would be willing to vote for it. As always, there is plenty of blame to go around.

TH: Those disappointed by Trump, particularly former Obama administration figures like John Kerry and Ben Rhodes, insist that not only does this increase the chances of war with Iran but it shows America cannot be trusted to keep its word, which among other things will doom any negotiations with North Korea. What’s your response?

KMP: Again, I don’t particularly like how former Obama administration officials have been conducting their half of the debate, but on the substance I fear that they are right. It is one of the reasons that I see Trump’s decision as thoughtless, reckless and potentially harmful to the U.S.

TH: The Iranian regime reacted in some expected ways, from burning American flags in parliament to launching some missiles into Israel from Syria, but the leadership also insisted that they were eager to work with the Europeans on saving the deal somehow. Was that a surprise? Is the deal salvageable without U.S. involvement?

KMP: I don’t think it was at all surprising. It was the smart response – and while the Iranians certainly can be foolish, ignorant and obtuse, they have largely played the nuclear issue well all along. Iran benefits from the JCPOA, albeit not nearly as much as they hoped.

Right now, their people are very unhappy at the state of their economy and I think the regime would love to see if they can use Trump’s decision to get additional economic benefits from the other signatories to the JCPOA. The Iranians will be able to rightly claim that Trump is now denying them the benefits they were promised under the JCPOA, and if the others want Tehran to continue to abide by it, they are going to have to make it worth Iran’s while to do so.

TH: Many supporters of the deal argue that Trump’s killing it will only empower “hard-liners” and hurt “moderates.” Do you really think that dichotomy exists? Whether or not, how do you think Trump’s action may affect Iranian politics?

KMP:  Iran has a hideously fragmented polity, and it is an overstatement to simply divide them up into two camps. Yet many Iranian politicians line up more or less consistently with what we call the “hardline” and “moderate” positions, and it isn’t wrong to use those labels either.

So with that caveat in mind, I will say that I am pretty confident that it will affect Iranian internal politics, and I suspect mostly in an unhelpful way. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is the critical “moderate,” and he hitched his star to the wagon of the JCPOA. His whole theory was that Iran needed to end the U.S. sanctions to enable the economic transformation that the Iranian people desperately want.

For two years, Rouhani has had to defend that position in the face of evidence that Iran’s economy has not suddenly prospered after the deal. To some extent that was because some American sanctions remained, but to an even greater extent it was a result of the endemic corruption and mismanagement of the Iranian economy, which had nothing to do with the nuclear deal.

Nevertheless, the hardliners tried to undermine Rouhani’s position by pointing out that the nuclear deal had not prompted a transformation of the Iranian economy, because in their telling, the U.S. had deceived Iran and never lived up to its commitments. Trump scuttling the deal and re-imposing sanctions is likely to reinforce that narrative and so further weaken Rouhani and other moderates.

All that said, we need to be careful about ascribing too much of what happens in Iranian internal politics to American policy. Americans consistently overestimate the extent that our actions can and will affect Iranian politics.

TH: The White House insists that the bite of its unilateral sanctions will bring Iran back to the table for an entirely new deal – an argument I expect to hear on Monday when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lays out the administration’s new “comprehensive plan.” Do you think that’s plausible?

KMP: It’s possible, but as an analyst, I would not rate it as likely. And as a former policymaker, I would have assessed the probability as too low and the potential costs of being wrong as too high to justify the risk.

The big unknowns that I think people are missing are China, Russia, India and other countries who either oppose the U.S. or that used to be called “non-aligned.” All of the press pieces about the JCPOA have focused on what the Europeans are going to do. I think European-American trade ties are probably going to prove too strong, and so the Europeans will complain but won’t do very much. Moreover, European trade with Iran just isn’t very significant, so losing it probably won’t hurt Iran that much.

But Russia is Iran’s most important strategic ally, and China and India are two of its most important oil buyers. All of them (and others) could choose to defy American sanctions and dare the White House to try to penalize them. If they follow that course of action, it will be very helpful to Tehran financially, diplomatically and psychologically, and make it much harder to convince Iran to come back to the bargaining table.

Beyond that, the Iranian regime has repeatedly been willing to defy sanctions and accept hardship.  Coercing Iran a second time around, after reneging on our own offer, is likely to be a lot harder, and it could be impossible.

TH: You and I both think the Iranian nuclear program is just one spoke on a bigger wheel – a desire to control vast swathes of the Middle East and surpass the Arab states as regional superpower. What are the current priorities for the U.S. and its regional allies in thwarting Tehran’s master plan?

KMP: For me the first priorities need to be Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Each deserves a much bigger conversation, but I know we don’t have hours to unpack each so let me just give you the broadest outlines.

Syria is critical both because the Syrian civil war is destabilizing the entire Middle East and Europe beyond it, but also because it could either be a huge Iranian gain or a giant Iranian liability. The Iranians’ role in Syria has grown enormously. If they are allowed to consolidate their control, Syria becomes an overland link to Lebanon and a launch pad to operate against Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc.

But Iran is now stuck propping up a corrupt, incompetent and unpopular regime. It’s the same mistake the U.S. made in Vietnam and Russia made in Afghanistan. What we all learned is that it is far, far more expensive and difficult to back the regime than it is to back the insurgents fighting them. Iran has set itself up for Syria to be its Vietnam. We should make sure it becomes just that by expanding our support to the Syrian rebels.

TH: And Iraq?

KMP: Iraq is harder, but just as important. It is one of the most important Arab states and the vast majority of Iraqis hate Iran, but we have allowed Iran to become the most influential external power there out of sheer neglect. If we are willing to maintain a sizable American military presence there (as we should have in 2011) and are willing to make a long-term commitment to help Iraq economically (say $1 billion to $2 billion per year for five years) we will be in a position to help nationalistic Iraqi leaders who have tried to stand up to Tehran but failed largely because they did not have our help. That remains true even after Iraq’s recent elections.

Yemen is harder still. There the most important things are to get our Saudi allies unstuck and convince the Houthis to evict their Iranian advisers. In a nutshell, the best prospect we have to do both is to help the Saudi-led military coalition to take the port of Hudaydah, the last and most important under Houthi control. Then, with that military victory in hand, convince them to offer a generous political deal to the Houthis, one largely along the lines of what the Houthis demanded at the start of the civil war. In return, we/they would demand an end to the war and an end to the Iranian presence.

While those are only three steps in a journey of many miles, they are also three big steps, both in terms of the impact they would have on Iran’s regional position and the demands on U.S. leadership. They are also entirely doable at a very reasonable price. The only question is really whether anyone can convince Donald Trump that they are worth doing.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at philipgray@bloomberg.net

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-05-19/next-on-iran-war-diplomacy-or-some-of-both

Washington seeks global ‘coalition’ against Iran regime

May 18, 2018

Washington wants to build a global “coalition” against the Tehran regime and its “destabilizing activities,” the State Department said on Thursday, after pulling out from the Iran nuclear accord to the anger of US allies.

The plan is to be detailed on Monday by the top United States diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his first major foreign policy address since taking office in April.

“The US will be working hard to put together a coalition,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

AFP

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The aim is to “bring together a lot of countries from around the world with the specific goal of looking at the Iranian regime through a more realistic lens” which would include “all of its destabilizing activities that aren’t just a threat to the region but are a threat to the broader world,” she said.

Nauert added that the coalition will not be “anti-Iran” because the US stands “firmly behind” the country’s people, in contrast to the regime and its “bad actions.”

She evoked a comparison with the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Begun in 2014, that coalition now counts as members 75 countries or institutions and intervened militarily against the jihadists, although only a minority of coalition members have conducted most of that military action, which has left the extremists nearly defeated on that battlefield.

Nauert did not say whether the proposed coalition against Iran’s regime would have a military component.

She said the State Department received on Monday about 200 foreign diplomats to explain to them President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear accord, and the next steps.

In a breakthrough that ended a 12-year standoff over Western fears that Iran was developing a nuclear bomb, the administration of former president Barack Obama and other major powers reached the accord with Iran in 2015.

It lifted punishing international sanctions in return for Iran’s agreement to freeze its nuclear effort.

Withdrawing from the deal last week, Trump called for a new agreement with deeper restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program as well as curbs on its ballistic missiles and its backing for militant groups across the Middle East.

Along with Iran the other signatories of the 2015 deal — France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia — strongly criticized the US withdrawal.

On Thursday the European Union said it will begin moves to block the effect of reimposed US sanctions on Iran as efforts to preserve the nuclear deal deepened a transatlantic rift.

Asked about the potential willingness of European nations to join the proposed new coalition, Nauert said many US allies “fully understand” and are “not turning a blind eye” to Iran’s actions.

Iran FM heads to Brussels on final leg of nuclear deal saving tour

May 15, 2018

Iran’s foreign minister is due to land in Brussels later Tuesday on the final leg of a global tour rallying diplomatic support for the country’s nuclear deal after the Trump administration’s abrupt withdrawal.

Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany — the three European nations involved in the landmark deal who are incensed by Washington’s abandonment of the pact.

© POOL/AFP | Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is headed to Brussels after meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov

AFP

After long negotiations, Iran agreed in July 2015 to freeze its nuclear programme in return for the repeal of punishing international sanctions.

But last week US President Donald Trump announced he was leaving the deal and reimposing sanctions.

Zarif’s has since embarked on a whirlwind global tour, visiting both Russia and China, the two other signatory nations, in a bid to bolster support.

Washington’s decision to go against its European allies’ advice and abandon the deal has pushed them closer to Beijing and Moscow as diplomats scramble to keep the pact alive.

“The agreement with Iran is working, we must do our utmost to preserve it,” Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini, told AFP ahead of Zarif’s arrival.

Iran has said it is preparing to resume “industrial-scale” uranium enrichment “without any restrictions” unless Europe can provide solid guarantees that it can maintain trade ties despite renewed US sanctions.

On Monday Zarif met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, a day after visiting leaders in Beijing.

“The final aim of these negotiations is to seek assurances that the interests of the Iranian nation will be defended,” Zarif said at the start of a meeting.

After the talks, Zarif praised the “excellent cooperation” between Moscow and Tehran and said Lavrov had promised him to “defend and keep the agreement”.

Lavrov, for his part, said Russia and Europe had a duty to “jointly defend their legal interests” in terms of the deal.

– ‘Malign behaviour’ –

On Monday Zarif also sent a letter to the United Nations in which he accused the US of showing a “complete disregard for international law” in pulling out of the deal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about efforts to save the accord, after voicing his “deep concern” over Trump’s decision.

And on Monday Putin met Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, telling him that Russia was “ready to continue to uphold the Iran nuclear deal despite the withdrawal of the United States”.

Analyst say Trump’s move to ditch the nuclear deal has brought Europe, Moscow and Beijing together.

“(European) cooperation with Russia, which until recently seemed impossible because of the Skripal (spy poisoning) case, with the expulsion of diplomats and the reduction of contact, is now receiving a fresh boost,” said Andrei Baklitsky of the Moscow-based PIR Center nuclear safety NGO.

“The Europeans, after the withdrawal of the US from the deal, have found themselves forced to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action themselves,” he told AFP, referring to the official name of the nuclear deal.

Moscow would have to play a key role in ensuring Tehran does not resume its nuclear programme, he added.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington still wants to work with Europe to counter Iran’s “malign behaviour” and was working hard to thrash out a more wide-ranging deal with its European partners.

But while he talked up the prospect of renewed coordination with America’s allies, another top aide reminded Europe its companies could face sanctions if they continue to do business with the Middle Eastern power.

Russian efforts to save the accord will boost its role as a power player in the Middle East, after its intervention on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

This, along with its diplomatic moves to orchestrate an end to the Syrian conflict, has put Moscow at loggerheads with the US and Europe, which have intervened against the regime.

Merkel is set to visit Russia and meet Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, while French President Emmanuel Macron will be in Saint Petersburg later this month for an economic forum.

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Getting a grip on Israel’s future

May 13, 2018

With apologies to an old bread commercial, you don’t have to be Jewish to marvel at what is happening in Israel. And to be nervous.

The ancient land is bracing for both historic celebrations and escalating Arab violence. Throw in the possibility there will be more Iranian rocket attacks and the week ahead is shaping up as an extreme metaphor for the good, the bad and the ugly of Israel’s modern existence.

Monday brings the belated fulfillment of an old promise — that the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Trump’s decision makes good on his campaign pledge, and shames prior presidents who made the same pledge but went wobbly when they got to the White House.

Trump’s recognition that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital confirmed a reality widely understood by both Arabs and Jews but that foreign governments denied out of fear that acknowledging the truth would spark Palestinian violence. As if the bomb makers and knife wielders needed an excuse.

Giving veto power to the heckler has never worked anywhere, and it certainly didn’t work in Jerusalem. Palestinians were offered their own state repeatedly in the last two decades, but neither Yasir Arafat nor Mahmoud Abbas could ever get to yes.

Instead, violence was always their default position, and as Friday’s latest installment of scheduled mayhem along the Gaza border illustrated, little has changed since 1948.

Which brings us to Tuesday, the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence. The odds against its reaching this milestone often seemed prohibitive, but Israel today is a powerhouse, economically, culturally and militarily.

It also enjoys increasing ties with some of its Arab neighbors — a sign not of love, but of common enemies. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others share with the Jewish state deep apprehension about the rise of the Islamist ideology and the apocalyptic aims of Iran.

These new alliances notwithstanding, America remains Israel’s most reliable ally, and the Trump administration is proving to be the most pro-Israel ever, a fact that confounds and distresses many liberal American Jews.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump will lead the American delegation to the embassy ceremony, and Jerusalem is awash with huge street banners thanking the president.

The pro-Trump enthusiasm includes a commemorative coin featuring his likeness next to that of an ancient Persian King, Cyrus the Great.

The Old Testament credits Cyrus with allowing captive Jews to return to Jerusalem from Babylon 2,500 years ago and rebuild Solomon’s temple. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is among those comparing Trump to Cyrus, a linkage evangelical Christians also embrace.

Alas, the current kings of Iran represent an existential threat to Israel. The president’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the feckless nuclear pact is very popular in Israel, but Iran’s mullahs used the decision as an excuse to launch rocket attacks from Syria.

The Israeli response was swift and deadly, which led to condemnations from the usual suspects that it was dangerously disproportionate. In fact, what is really dangerous is that Iran’s forces in Syria are aiming their weapons at Israel now that they have mostly subdued the opponents of Syrian butcher Bashar al Assad.

Similarly, Iran’s other terror ally, Hezbollah, has amassed a rocket arsenal in Lebanon targeting Israel.

These developments lead many analysts to conclude that the tit-for-tat shadow war between Israel and Iran could become a full-scale conflict. Those blaming Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal for changing the dynamics have cause and effect backwards.

The real cause is that Iran has grown increasingly belligerent, with its government threatening to destroy Israel. Those actions and the funding of terror groups in Yemen to attack are proof that the nuclear pact backfired.

Instead of leading Iran to become a peaceful global citizen, the deal enabled the mullahs to use their cash windfall to fund their missile program and proxy armies.

Trump’s plan to reimpose economic sanctions offers some hope that Iran will curb its military spending, but a major obstacle is that most European governments, which barely tolerate Israel, are more interested in appeasing the mullahs. They also don’t want to spoil the profitable party that Europe’s multinational companies are enjoying from trading with Iran.

If all that weren’t trouble enough for Israel, the Palestinians promise to protest both the embassy move and the anniversary celebrations. That means throwing grenades, burning tires and flying burning kites across the border. Leaders of Hamas, the terror group running Gaza, are urging tens of thousands to smash through the security fence along the border.

The escalation is likely to reach its climax Wednesday, when Palestinians hold their annual “Nakba Day” or catastrophe protests. They see the creation of Israel as the greatest disaster to befall them, and Arab leaders in both the West Bank and Gaza are encouraging massive turnout.

Israeli Defense Forces are adding reinforcements across the country in anticipation of what officials predict will be extensive and violent demonstrations.

If past is prologue, much blood will be shed needlessly, yet nothing will change. Israel is not going anywhere, and only when Iran and the Palestinians come to that conclusion will peace have a chance.

By Michael Goodwin
New York Post

https://nypost.com/2018/05/12/getting-a-grip-on-israels-future/

More Powerful Than Nuclear Weapons: Iranian (And Chinese) Money Is Taking Over the Mideast

May 12, 2018

Checkbook diplomacy is Tehran’s method of choice for becoming a Mideast superpower. It is thought to have spent at least $15 billion on the war in Syria

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FILE - This April 20, 2017 file photo shows a Hezbollah fighter holding an Iranian-made anti-aircraft missile on the border with Israel.
FILE – This April 20, 2017 file photo shows a Hezbollah fighter holding an Iranian-made anti-aircraft missile on the border with Israel.Hussein Malla/AP

On the morning of October 17 last year, around two dozen Islamic State militants drove into the center of the Sinai city of El-Arish and split into two groups. One group opened fire on Egyptian soldiers and guards outside the Church of Saint George. It wasn’t the first time the Coptic church had been attacked, and it had gone unused for months following a surge in attacks on Christians in the Egyptian territory.

This time, the assault on the church was a distraction. The second group of fighters opened fire on the guards outside a nearby bank, stormed it and robbed it, in the process killing three security guards and three civilians, among them a child. Fifteen other people were injured in the two hours of gunfire. The thieves loaded the cash onto a stolen vehicle and three motorcycles, and drove out of town, leaving behind explosives in the bank branch to hold up the Egyptian army.

In contrast to Islamic State’s other actions in Sinai, the motive this time was economic. It wasn’t the first time the organization had resorted to crime to obtain money. Theoretically, drug smuggling and other criminal activity contradicts Islamic State’s official religious ideology and policy. But like any terror organization, Islamic State needs money and anyway, the lower ranks don’t always heed official policy to the letter.

Hezbollah is in the same situation, but it’s sponsored by Iran. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, officially opposes the drug trade. In the 1980s and ‘90s, drugs flowing from Lebanon into Israel passed through areas Hezbollah controlled. Then too, forces in the field far from the organization leadership, what they call “the periphery” of the organization’s financing, were involved.

Project Cassandra, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration mission fighting the global drug trade, also has Hezbollah in its sights.

Hezbollah’s 910 unit, which among other things carries out attacks beyond Lebanon, is also involved in crime and drugs. This drug trade network even served the Iranians and Hezbollah to move agents and armaments among themselves.

Iran’s conduct in the Middle East, notably on the Iran-Hezbollah axis, is now the main threat to Israel. The aerial attack on Iran’s massive surface-to-surface missile buildup in Syria and the press conference the prime minister called the next day to tell the world that the Iranians had been lying in recent years about their nuclear program delivered a clear message: escalation in the Israel-Iran conflict.

Iranian rhetoric against Israel is one of ideological hatred, but isn’t divorced from economic interests in the region. It tries to achieve those through actions designed to establish control over the Middle East, deepen its hold on Hezbollah and its presence on Israel’s border.

Israel needs to deal with the Iran-Hezbollah economic connection: In many ways, trying to starve terrorist organizations financially may prove harder than imposing sanctions on a whole country.

The difficulty was demonstrated during the Second Lebanon War.

The war in Lebanon in 2006 changed the Israeli military’s thinking about the new field of battle it faced. The fact that the Israeli home front suffered rocket attacks that the Israeli army couldn’t stop for two months drove the development of the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

The Second Lebanon War also taught lessons about another level of the economic confrontation. Israel discovered how tricky it is to do anything about a non-state terrorist organization’s funding. Israel could bomb vital infrastructure in Lebanon and destroy the country’s power stations and flatten its airports to pressure Hezbollah, but that’s like trying ot get rid of a parasite by killing the host. Israel found it difficult to strangle the organization directly.

Figuring out how to suffocate a given terror organization, like Hezbollah, one has to understand the way the organization operates.

Actually, according to a report in Forbes Magazine in December, Hezbollah is the richest terrorist organization in the world, with annual revenues of $1.1 billion.

A study by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy estimated in 2012 that Hezbollah was getting $200 million a year from Iran, a level that rose with the years. It also estimated that the organization was making another $200 million a year from drugs, and getting donations as well.

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference last year, the head of Military Intelligence estimated that Hezbollah gets 75 percent of its funding from Iran. Army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot gave a figure: $800 million a year. Don’t forget that Hezbollah also runs a welfare system and communications network, including a television station.

In July 2016, Nasrallah gave a speech slamming Lebanon’s banking system for succumbing to American pressure, in the wake of the U.S. Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2014. But he also said the organization didn’t care: it got its money from Iran, not Lebanese banks.

That’s just a fraction of what Iran spends on supporting terror organizations. By Israeli estimates, since 2015 Iran has spent from $15 billion to $20 billion on the Syrian civil war.

“The Iranians wanted to save the Assad regime because in practice, Assad is their only permanent ally in the Middle East, and because Hezbollah can’t survive in Lebanon without Syrian cooperation,” says

Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and the Institute for Policy and Strategy, both at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. “So it was a vital interest for Iran to help Assad. Not only economically. They also sent thousands of Revolutionary Guards to Syria.”

Iran also pays for the training and salaries of Iraqi militias — seven divisions — operating in Syria, Karmon adds. And Iran is hosting a million refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran gives the families of soldiers sent from the refugee camps to Syria $500 a month each, and there are tens of thousands of them, he says.

“The Islamic Resistance support organization launches its 2017 campaign: The steel soles marching down the roads of jihad need clothing and military equipment. This project enables you to donate to them. You can donate by one-time payment or monthly installments. To donate, call the local Islamic Resistance support representatives around Lebanon at the following numbers.”

It’s an internet campaign associated with Hezbollah, aiming chiefly at local Shi’ites in Lebanon. Some call these donations a tax. When a Lebanese Shi’ite is born at a Hezbollah-funded hospital and goes to a Hezbollah-funded school, it becomes part of his life. In many ways Lebanon’s Shi’ite community in is captive to Hezbollah, which is reflected in donations.

Guns and butter

Hospitals and schools are often the official reason Iran, not to mention Qatar and Egypt, name for giving Hezbollah money. Hezbollah finds other uses for it too and it isn’t for urban renewal. Nasrallah even stated in the past that he sees no need to separate the organization’s military and civilian arms. Hezbollah has people on salary who just teach at schools and others who just fight.

Salaries in the organization depend on ideological devotion, in reverse: the more devoted the person, the lower the pay. But convincing irreligious locals to work for Hezbollah means offering them more than the minimum wage ($450 a month in Lebanon).

Nasrallah once said he makes just $1,300 a month but the organization’s murky operations create room for corruption. It’s money flow is also hard to track and many senior members have foreign bank accounts around the world.

Hezbollah also has at least two other sources: donations from Shi’ite businesses and communities as well as making counterfeit currency.

Perhaps the sanctions U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to clap on Iran after pulling the United States out of the nuclear accord with Iran will put pressure on that funding source for Hezbollah.

Terror organizations can’t buy weapons with credit cards or do direct deposits of wages. They move money around through their own channels, including couriers carrying suitcases of cash. The fees charged by the “mules” is a function of their ideological devotion. Hezbollah also moves money through a network of businesses.

Israel’s security services are constantly devising ways to foil the movements of money, which among other things requires understanding the overarching economic interests of the powers in the region.

Iran’s geopolitical aspirations are reflected not only in Syria: In Iraq it funds Afghani and Pakistani refugees moving into cities abandoned by Sunnis, and opens Shi’ite centers. In Syria it’s trying to convert Alawites to Islam, and in Yemen it has been financing the Houthi rebels.

In Syria, Iran makes cars and has invested in real estate, tourism, agriculture and construction, says Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on contemporary Iranian politics at IDC. They support Assad in exchange for his supporting their economic interest in Syria, and they hope to earn from rebuilding Syria once the fighting ends, he explains.

But the billions that Iran spends in Syria and Lebanon is at the expense of Iranians, who know it, hence the economy-based opposition to the regime. And now Trump’s latest moves could place Iran under greater economic stress, which could wind up constraining its financing for the likes of Hezbollah.

Iran’s Zarif begins high-stakes diplomatic tour amid regional tensions

May 12, 2018

Iran’s foreign minister is embarking on a diplomatic tour to try to salvage the nuclear deal amid high tensions following the US withdrawal and global fears over reports of unprecedented clashes with Israel in Syria.

© John Thys, AFP | Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari talks with his Belgian counterpart before their meeting at the Palais Egmont in Brussels on January 11, 2018.

AFP

Mohammad Javad Zarif was due to leave late Saturday for visits to BeijingMoscow and Brussels, a spokesman said Friday, holding meetings with all five of the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran appeared determined not to be drawn into a wider regional conflict with Israel during the sensitive negotiations.

That is despite Israel’s claims it struck dozens of Iranian targets inside Syria early on Thursday as part of “Operation House of Cards”.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “throw the Iranians out” of his country.

Israel said the strikes were in response to a missile volley fired from southern Syria by Iran’s Quds force, which struck the occupied Golan Heights without causing casualties.

But Iran flatly denied the Israeli version of events, saying Israel’s attacks were carried out on false “pretexts”.

“The repeated attacks by the Zionist regime on Syrian territory were carried out under pretexts that were invented by themselves and are without foundation,” said foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, without offering further details.

Iran must tread a delicate line as it seeks to show resolve against US President Donald Trump and the Israeli strikes without alienating the European partners it needs to salvage something from the nuclear deal.

Iran concessions?

Zarif will hold high-pressure talks with the other parties to the deal, first in Beijing and Moscow, and then with his counterparts from BritainFrance and Germany in Brussels on Tuesday.

All five have condemned Trump’s move to walk out of the deal and reimpose crippling sanctions, but European companies in particular will be highly vulnerable to economic pressure from Washington.

France still hopes for a wider settlement that will cover Iran’s activities across the Middle East, and warned Tehran on Thursday “against any temptation for regional dominance”.

Iran’s hardliners are already mobilising against any concessions to Europe, with hundreds protesting in Tehran after Friday prayers, saying it was time to abandon the deal.

“Officials shouldn’t trust France and Britain. They will never abandon the US for us,” said Poormoslem, a housewife at the rally.

>> Read more: Trump’s Iran deal exit forces EU to confront US ‘economic policeman of the world’

In Jerusalem, around 200 Jews gathered at the Western Wall for prayers “against the enemy”.

“We came here to pray to God after the victory against Iran” following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, said Aryeh Stern, a rabbi from Jerusalem.

Southern Syria was quiet but tense, with monitors saying Syrian, Iranian and allied Lebanese forces from Hezbollah were on high alert.

The Israeli raids had prompted concern Iran could activate its powerful ally Hezbollah to retaliate from its positions in southern Lebanon, opening up a deadly new front in the conflict.

Iranian analysts said Israel had struck first on Thursday, and that any retaliation was the work of the Syrian military, not Iran.

‘Severe threat’ to stability

But the White House put the blame on Iran, condemning its “reckless actions” that it warned pose a “severe threat” to stability in the Middle East.

“Already this week, the IRGC has fired rockets at Israeli citizens, and Iran’s proxies in Yemen have launched a ballistic missile at Riyadh,” it said, referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Trump spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, and “both leaders condemned the Iranian regime’s provocative rocket attacks from Syria,” the White House said.

The United States has said that despite its withdrawal from the nuclear accord, it wants inspections by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to continue in Iran.

The IAEA said meanwhile that its chief inspector Tero Varjoranta resigned, without giving a reason for his sudden departure.

“The agency’s safeguards activities will continue to be carried out in a highly professional manner,” a spokesperson for the agency said on Friday.

Analysts say Israel feels it has a green light from Washington to move more aggressively against Iran’s presence in Syria, particularly after Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

They also see a rare chance for Iran to hold the moral high ground.

“For the first time, Iran has the chance to show the world they are not the rogue nation they are always presented as, that they negotiated in good faith and keep to their commitments,” said Karim Emile Bitar, of the Institute for International and Strategic Affairs in Paris.

Russia which is alone in having close relations with both Iran and Israel has sought to position itself as a mediator to prevent further escalation.

Its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said “all issues should be solved through dialogue” and that Russia had warned Israel to avoid “all actions that could be seen as provocative”.

However, one analyst at London’s Chatham House, Yossi Mekelberg, said the strikes on Iranian targets “were likely undertaken with tacit Russian approval”.

On Friday the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin had spoken with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a bid to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Related:

Iran’s biggest trading partner is China:

See also:

Russia seeks to mediate between Iran, Israel

https://www.middle-east-online.com/en/russia-seeks-mediate-between-iran-israel